Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I know I'm not one of those multiple posts per day sort of bloggers, but I wanted to note that I'm facing a few time pressures as of late and am not likely to pop up much until next week. I'm going on a short trip, and I'm also trying to get more focused at work.

But I will be back. Maybe I'll take some time and compose my first book review offline and pop back up sooner than I think I will.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Part of the issue?

The trend in my topical posts thus far, as well as a fair bit of what I see put forward by other Celtic reconstructionists, runs toward the negative and reactive more than the positive or proactive. We have several essays floating around about topics like "why Wicca isn't Celtic" or discussing what we do more in the context of what we don't do. Which, again, tends to run "how CR is not Wicca."

On the flip side, when someone comes along and says, "This is how I do CR," how much time do we spend flaying it for what we see as inconsistencies instead of at least starting with a few kudos for doing it at all? I'm as guilty as the next person of following this approach, mind you. This is as much about my way of doing as it is anyone else's.

I am not too sure how to deal with it. Most of us are going to face continued repetition of the usual modern material presented as ancient lore. New variations will pop up, such as the "ancient Celtic ritual of Merlin calling up the bear" that I attended at a pagan convention for reasons unrelated to wanting to bond with Mother Bear. And that kind of nonsense needs to be called for what it is.

But if we can't ameliorate our criticisms with compliments when they're called for, it's small wonder I've seen people state that they called themselves CR until they pulled the broom out of their ass. Now, some people will resent being told they can't get away with calling modern material ancient no matter how much sugar you add to the medicine. I just hope that I, along with others, will continue to work on treating the well-meaning but wrong as if they are educatable instead of inscrutably dumb.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

As the ancients would have it?

We've all heard, and many of us have said, that the cultures predating Christianity knew how to live in harmony with the Earth. In fact, environmentalism is often described as part of how we honor the ways of our ancestors. Surely they wouldn't have wrecked the land around them in order to achieve a selfish end. The more I look at Irish myth and ancient history, though, the more I see that as a lovely fantasy.

The myth that points to a contradiction between the "go green" approach of neopagans and our ancestors is the history of Lughnasadh. Lugh wanted to grow grain. The best land was forested. Did he decide to abandon the idea of bread in favor of harvesting acorns? No. Tailltiu, Lugh's foster mother, single-handedly wiped out the Forest of Breg as a personal favor to her darling boy. The exertion killed her, and Lugh founded the feast day in honor of her achievements and what it provided the TdD. The main thrust of the holiday is the start of harvest. It wouldn't have been possible without one serious act of clear-cutting.

I realize the myth wasn't written down until after the conversion process had been in full swing for several centuries. But unlike the mythical and misinterpreted snakes, we know Ireland used to be very heavily forested. The peat bogs which are part of the current definition of the Irish landscape resulted from Neolithic forest-clearing practices. The Tailltiu myth is thus, if nothing else, an allegory for the rise of farming as brought in by settlers from elsewhere in Europe.

This is not to say that modern pagans should abandon environmentalism. Hardly. It's a very important approach, and more necessary now than it ever has been. The reasons, however, are not easily supportable by claiming "our ancestors would want it this way." Our ancestors used the technology they had to make their lives more comfortable and developed more efficient means of getting there. If they could have predicted the results of their deforestation, would they have done it anyway? I personally suspect that can only be answered with a question. Were they human beings?

Sunday, May 15, 2005


I received a comment off of my last substantive post that raised a thought or two with me. Greenheart wrote in part:
In other words how about more and stronger polytheist alliances? Real world, not cyber, and no, not for eclectic purposes but to say, in one voice,"One god is not enough"
I'm all in favor of making alliances. But "one god is not enough?" For whom? I have no problem with monotheism the same way I have no problem with monogamy. The fact I don't practice either is purely a statement of my own needs, preferences and biases. I will not tell anyone who believes either is the way they should live that they are wrong. I will only demur from following if they try to talk me into it.

And what sort of alliance are we discussing, anyway? Political? Social? What will we do once we form one? Most politically active pagans are already using what's out there. We write letters, stage and participate in marches, join organizations, donate money and time, and vote. And if it's political, whose politics? There are pagans in just about every organization you can think of, including conservative ones. Many pagans cling to the belief that every one of us is a lockstep progressive. It's a prejudice of many of them that all pagans should be. I for one will not give in to it. The world is far more complex than any extreme would like people to believe.

On that note, while I've been aware of the Dominionists longer than some people, I'm not yet convinced the threat they pose is more than minor. I've been looking at some of the more secular right-wing voices, such as Instapundit, in a deliberate attempt to get information from more than one perspective. I do see the influence the Dominionists want to have. I also see many Republicans getting increasingly tired of them as well as some of President Bush's domestic policies. More and more, they notice that their party of limited government is being taken over by people who think "limited" means "limit everyone else but us." Ignoring the radicals won't make them go away, no, but I think there are ways of using the mutual distaste.

While more left-leaning people will not agree with the right-leaning folks about many things, if you want to talk alliances, this may be an opening we can use. Perhaps having a nice sit-down chat or twelve with the true conservatives about how we just want to be left in peace to live our lives as citizens with full and equal rights in exchange for helping to get the ultra-right-wingers out of their party might not be out of place. If you doubt it can be done, consider this. The Economist spent lots of pages explaining why same-sex marriage would be a good idea. I think that alone shows there are ways of arguing liberty with conservatives that gets us somewhere other than the wrong side of the door. After all, some of them already agree.

There are a lot of people who would be ill-served by a Cromwellesque takeover of the US government. Sexual and religious minorities are not the only ones. And I think we'd do well to remember that when we express our concerns about the latter-day Roundheads.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Question for the RSS feed readers

Do you prefer the entries to appear as just the first few lines, or would you rather the whole thing be posted? I've set it to short for now, but I should be able to change it. Let me know (I'll check the LJ feed as well as the blog itself).

Ancient, modern, verified

Ronald Hutton, a professor at the University of Bristol (UK) and author of over eleven books about pagan and medieval Europe with a focus on the British Isles and the Celts, was interviewed a couple of years ago by the Druid Network. He had this to say about modern Druidry and its provenance:

My line on this is consistently that we know so little of certainty about the ancient Druids that really all we have is a set of literary stereotypes of them left by foreign or Christian authors. All of the latter may be wrong or misleading. This means that nobody is in a position to tell modern Druids that what they are doing is inauthentic, but it is equally true that no modern Druids are in a position to declare that what they do is the authentic ancient tradition. We're all working with flawed and unreliable images, and doing our best with them.

I admit to finding this argument compelling on some levels. He's not far off, though some would say this soundbite oversimplifies what we have of pre-Christian Celtic material. Hutton is certainly not the sort who'd be unaware of the volume of material, though. One thing nobody can deny is that no extant texts of druidic rituals performed by any tribe assigned the label of Celtic have surfaced as such. Christian Guyonvarc'h's analysis of the Colloquy of the Sages sees in its pages a codified test to determine the fitness of a druid. Past that, most of what we have are archaeological analysis and folk practices. Some of the latter might be time-degraded versions of druid-led traditions. I for one could see such events as the hobby horse parades on St. Stephen's Day as older ritual turned into children's play. But it's not what it once was, and we can't be sure what that original form was without a lot of speculation.

This is where Hutton's argument comes in. We have bits and pieces. Guesswork and maybes. Some items are less likely to have been part of the Celtic mentality than others, such as the maiden-mother-crone Triple Goddess of Wicca or vegan sensibilities. But some of the lines that get drawn in the sand in some pagan circles are even less stable than the sand. One of the claims in Celtic reconstructionist circles often taken as gospel is, "The Celts didn't work with the directions." However, they felt the compass points sufficiently important that the king's residence at Tara in Ireland was built with five directions in mind as an analogy to the five provinces (the four cardinal points plus the center). Each province was assigned a direction as well. This is not prima facie evidence they called the directions, but it is proof they knew they were there and found them of some significance. Any opinions about their usability in Celtic ritual are just that. Opinions.

Nobody has a direct line on ancient lore as it was before the Romans and monks showed up to change the Celts forever. We're all doing "best guess" work, even the people who claim they're hewing closest to tradition by leaving things out when they can't be verified in three sources that postdate the Great Hunger. I think it's one of the dangers and strengths of Celtic reconstructionist paganism. We stand at risk of needing to re-invent our wheels whenever the theories of academia run headlong into our personal practices. But in the quest to create a tradition rooted in what we know of the Celts that fits the world we live in today, we are not shackled to ritual patterns that might not make sense without, say, full fluency in Old Irish, the way some mystery traditions' rites are not fully comprehensible without knowing their source. It runs the risk of importation of truly incompatible items as well, but that is where the rigor of scholarship comes in. It's a delicate balance. I can only hope my fellow CR pagans and myself continue to see the value in flexibility paired with a just caution.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Out into the blogosphere

I've received my first comment, with thanks to the fine host of The Wild Hunt. I've added a few more pagan blogs that caught my eye and held it to the list. More will pop up over time.

I'm considering an occasional "Books I've Read So You Don't Have To" segment, thanks to my perverse tendency to get what I see as the schlocky side of pagan texts. I realize I may get some people angry with me for it. I think it's a bit late for me to worry about that, considering my role in Celtic paganism. I've seen the harsh comments about Celtic reconstructionism in certain circles, and I'm attempting to resurrect one of its first organizations. I'll just have to be careful about the quality of the company that refuses to keep mine.


For those of you who have no background in the Irish language or even its Scottish cousin, Gaelic, branruadh translates out to "red raven." I selected that name for this blog after I found out that somewhere along the way, I or someone else had already created an account named Lysana (my usual online handle) on Blogger, and either it wasn't me or I no longer have access to the email address that the account is associated with. I came up with it while contemplating what sort of sentiment I was going to bring to this project. It has echoes of the Morrigan, which suits a project that may wind up leading me into confrontational scenarios.

And the flower is a red raven lily. I was poking around Google's image search feature when I found out such a thing exists. I also found two superheroes and a lot of bars. Go figure.

Faith, paganism, and blogging

Chasing the Dragon's Tale's Paul Chenoweth noted in his short summation of the faith-based blogger panel at BlogNashville that such work is in its infancy. La Shawn Barber, a fundamentalist Christian blogger, noted the presence of "non-evangelicals, a Jew, and someone who may be a theist" at the gathering. From her loose sketch of the participants, I would've been the lone polytheist had I shown up. This got me thinking about this blog's purpose and direction and how it might cause some people a little bit of confusion.

I have faith in several gods. I plan to write this blog from that perspective. Thus, I am a faith-based blogger by simple deduction. I know full well that a fair number of others who claim that title would find me doing so to be a bit strange. But I can't really suffer myself to worry about it. To use one of their pet phrases, all I can do is walk my talk to the best of my ability and go from there.

So, who and what am I, as I promised in my last post? I'm the president of Imbas, a Celtic pagan (subset reconstructionist/restorationist), and I've been wanting a space where I can discuss both Celtic paganism and my perspectives on the world in a slightly different fashion than I've been doing on my LiveJournal. I admit I'd thought about keeping my identity hidden here, but I would feel too restricted at times. I may wind up restricted by being up-front about who I am at others, but that's a different issue altogether.

I'll also touch more on some of the rough-draft thoughts later on. Today, your humble blogger is running a bit too tired to wax grandiloquent.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Getting this baby into better shape

While my odds of posting to this blog very often aren't too high, I do want to get it into better shape in case I decide to rev it up more. The Mudville Gazette was kind enough to put together a how-to on getting one's blog going, and I've been following some of his steps.

His "find your tribe" suggestion has me contemplating what my intention is going to be with this. I've set the subtitle to "Paganism and other maunderings" due to a suspicion I'd like a forum to do explorations of some of the aspects of my beliefs that I'm not sure I want to put elsewhere. But I have so many interests, I feel like I'm at risk of pigeonholing myself with that description. And are there enough pagan bloggers out there to make it worth my focus? Or maybe that's the point. There need to be more pagan bloggers. Especially ones who aren't ultra left-wing radicals. Someone has to speak for the vague center. And represent some of the non-Wiccans.

On that note, I'll do a "what the heck am I" post later.